It's not meant as a performance sedan, but the 2014 Subaru Legacy can almost be viewed as a sport sedan in plainclothes. Excellent (and standard) all-wheel-drive grip, responsive handling, and the low center of gravity that comes from its horizontally-opposed "boxer" flat-four or flat-six engines add up to a driving experience that's far more engaging than the average Camry, Accord, or Sonata.
There are just two engines offered in the Legacy. The base engine is a new 173-horsepower four that's been designed for better drivability and more response across a wider range of engine speeds. It comes standard with a six-speed manual gearbox--itself unusual for a mid-size sedan, and a feature that adds to the sportiness--but the four is best matched to the new Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT). We find Subaru's CVT to be one of the best of the breed, without the engine surging and noise that make others so hard to live with.
Gas mileage for this combination is a commendable 27 mpg combined (24 mpg city, 32 mpg highway), good for an all-wheel drive mid-size sedan. (Compare that to the Ford Fusion AWD model at 25 mpg combined.) Opting for the six-speed manual adds athleticism and fun, but hurts efficiency, with a lower 24 mpg combined rating.
The second engine, in models designated 3.6R, is 3.6-liter flat six that's been carried over unchanged for several years now. It produces 256 hp, and the only transmission option is a five-speed automatic. Six-cylinder Legacy models are refined and smooth, but not as fast as other mid-size sedans with V-6 engines--and you'll pay at the pump, with a low EPA rating of just 20 mpg combined.
Subarus have always handled well, and the Legacy sits closer to the pavement than the high-riding Outback wagon. Cornering is flat, roadholding is tenacious, and the steering is nicely weighted, responsive and precise. Suspension, which was retuned last year, is on the firm side but delivers a good ride with little cabin noise.
The four is definitely a better balanced and lighter, more lithe car than the six, if not quite as quick. The six-cylinder models feel nose-heavy in tighter corners. The retuned suspension smooths the ride on broken or uneven road surfaces, and Subaru says body roll has been cut by up to 40 percent around turns.